The Herd of Elephants in the Room (by Judy)

You know, sometimes I just want to talk about death. Not always, but once in awhile. That’s my Herd of Elephants in the Room. At least that’s what it feels like because nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s there, in the background, in the periphery. Sometimes it’s the last thing I want to talk about, think about. However, there are times when the elephants that are always with me — in the living room, the kitchen, at work — want to make themselves known.

I want to talk about death in the personal — my death, and in the abstract — death in general. I want to talk about my fears. I want to talk about how my own death will affect me, what my dying will probably be like. No one wants to talk about it, though, and I get it; I do. My death will affect people who love me. Their lives will be different; they will miss me. I get it. That’s why, I think, when you mention death, people often make it about themselves. “I don’t want to talk about that.” I’ve heard many versions of “I just know you’ll beat this!,” when the fact is that I may live for years with it, but it’s unlikely that I’ll beat it. It’s unlikely that in my lifetime, however long that is, a cure will come for this. I know that. I live with it every day, every hour, every second.

It’s no wonder sometimes I feel the need to talk about it, but I don’t. For the most part, I keep my thoughts to myself because I don’t want to upset people, I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to invite them to see the herd of elephants behind me because they’re big and scary and all too real . . . even if they’re just a metaphor.

Listen, I hope I beat this. I would love nothing more than a miracle that brings me to complete remission for a long time. However, I also realize how unlikely that would be. It’s the truth; no need to deny it. I want to talk about how much I’ll miss, how much I’ll miss the people that I’ll leave. I want to talk about how I love my life and even though I know that when I die I’ll be in heaven, I don’t want to leave this life yet . . . or anytime soon or even anytime in the next several years.

Sometimes I just want to say that.

But I keep the elephants quiet and in the background. I keep them hidden. I keep quiet . . .

even when I don’t want to.

Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


8 Responses to The Herd of Elephants in the Room (by Judy)

  1. I completely understand, Judy. We (BC survivors) often can only share these things with one another because it’s too painful for others to want to deal with. As a Christian, I have been sharing some of my thoughts about death with my Christian friends — every so often. I often share it generally, though, rather than the specifics of my death. But thinking about death with the Lord has been very comforting and beneficial. I pray you can find some to share your thoughts with, and especially that you can pour out your heart with the Lord. He can give you specific insight re: what and when to share with individuals since He knows their hearts as well. ❤ Love and prayers.

  2. tracy thompson says:

    Say what you need to say, honey. There are lots of us here who can and will talk with you. There are some things that not-so-close friends and acquaintances are actually better for than family, and this may be one. Message me off-line if you want, or call Devra, or one of the many, many other people who are part of this process with you, but who don’t come to mind immediately when you list your dearest and closest friends. We can help, too.

  3. Hi Judy,

    My father fought and lost a battle with brain cancer. He was very courageous, and he made the decision to talk about his death openly once he realized that he was not going to beat the tumor. I am so glad he did. Granted, I was an adult already, but I found it incredibly powerful, affirming and moving to watch him as he said goodbye to his friends, and to have the opportunity to listen carefully as he told me what he wanted for me, what he thought was important for me to know. As painful as cancer is, in many ways, I think it is a gift to be able to plan for your own death as opposed to being taken suddenly, with no warning. I became much, much closer to my father during the year he battled cancer, and my sisters did as well. I learned so much about him that I would have never known otherwise – really important lessons that I still draw on today.

    Godspeed to you.


  4. Cheryl says:

    My mom and I used to talk about her pending death from breast cancer. (she passed in february 09) I know it helped her to talk about it as my dad didn’t want to talk about it. He was afraid that it meant she was giving up and she fought harder than anyone I’ve ever known. I hope in some small way I was able to help her and let her talk about it when she wanted to.

    Find someone you love and trust to talk about it with. None of us are promised tomorrow, you are just faced with the reality of it.

    You are in my prayers.

  5. Amanda says:

    Oh, Susan. Of course you do, and of course you don’t.

    You are so giving. I wish for the same things you mention, but I also acknowledge the weight of being unable to expose every feeling without worry. I hope you do share it somewhere.

    One day, those words, the thoughts born from the deepest part of your being, will be a salve for those who feared them.

  6. Amanda says:

    Eek, I am so sorry. I followed this link from Susan’s account. Count on me to insert foot. And yet, my sentiments remain the same for you, Judy.

  7. Alli says:

    Since your posts started to come to my email address I have always appreciated your brutal honesty. Some of us think it, some of us even talk about it in a whisper. Not you! You make your point and clearly, You have the courage to say what most don’t.
    Take care….

  8. mommydoctor says:

    You are not alone in wanting to talk about death after being diagnosed with cancer or while living with cancer. It’s natural, and, paradoxially, it can be life-enhancing.

    Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford writes/speaks about the value of facing and detoxifying one’s fears (his book is Living Beyond Limits). Chances are that if you find a safe place to share and explore your fears, you will then no longer feel the need to talk about it. And the value of fulfilling your need is that your energy is now freed up to focus on all that is right in your life today.

    On a different note, in my mind, triumph over cancer is measured by HOW one lives, not how long. Dying of cancer is not “losing” the battle, but “ending” the battle (if you like battle metaphors). I wrote about this in an article titled “Misguided Metaphor.”

    Lastly, for those people who feel that thinking about death will make it happen, I tell them that I would have died ages ago if that were the case. I found safe places to express and work through my fears. I did prepare the likely outcome of my dying before my oldest child graduated elementary school. Satisfied I’d done what I can do, I was able to let go of those worries and distractions, for the most part. And here I am 20 years later, currently in remission.

    There is always hope.
    With hope, Wendy

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